US Defense Department Declares War on Colossal Pollution Problem

Article excerpt

TOXIC solvents used to clean warplanes, tanks, and other weapons have long been among the Pentagon's major pollution problems.

So, in an effort to cut down its dangerous waste production, one Air Force depot has developed a greener method for stripping corrosion and dirt from jet engines: dry ice pellets blasted from a hose under pressure.

It's a move that is part of a larger trend. After decades as the biggest and least-accountable producer of pollutants in America, the Department of Defense (DOD) has begun to seriously address environmental concerns.

Pollutant control and compliance is slated to receive one of the largest percentage increases in the military budget for 1993, even though overall defense spending is sure to decline considerably.

Environmentalists welcome this funding rise and credit DOD's new pollution control efforts. But they worry about whether the defense bureaucracy has truly accepted the new environmental order.

And they point out that the Pentagon has made hardly a dent in the vast job of cleaning up contamination at its bases, both in the US and overseas. Need to do more cited

"Is DOD making progress on the environment? Yes," says Ralph De Gennaro, a Friends of the Earth federal budget expert. "But they need to do more. There's still a failure to accept that they're going to have to meet the same kind of standards that civilian industry has been meeting for years."

The DOD is the largest institution in America, and through the years many of its daily activities have left a stew of toxic or otherwise dangerous materials in their wake.

In 1989 the department estimated that it was producing some 900 million pounds of hazardous waste a year, for example. The same year DOD personnel were involved in 658 oil or toxic-waste spills that needed special cleanup.

Overall, DOD environmental officials have identified more than 20,000 sites contaminated by past practices at 1,600 different facilities. As of last year, 374 of those sites were listed as cleaned. Estimated cost for a complete scrubbing of Pentagon installations range from $20 billion on up. The contaminated sites range from oil-soaked motor pools to dumps full of chemicals used in poison gas.

The nuclear wastes of the nation's atomic bomb complex are a separate problem, largely the responsibility of the Department of Energy.

Military service efforts to clean up hot spots began on a small scale in 1975. In recent years, under pressure from Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency, the Pentagon has planned explosive growth in funds for pollution cleanup and prevention. …